Taine Randell: Kieran Read a great among greats
Kieran Read was a colossus in a great All Blacks year.
New Zealanders should feel fortunate that they are witnessing one of the great All Blacks teams.
Measuring this team against another era is irrelevant. They have created their own history and deserve respect for that - an unbeaten year of 14 tests sets them apart.
If you talk of the 1987-89 side and the 1996-7 teams, then it seems these special sides evolve only every decade or so.
Who knows what the future holds for this squad. The motivation of chasing the record 17 consecutive test wins and being the first to win back-to-back World Cups should ensure no backing off. But right now it's time to celebrate 2013.
It would be a travesty if Kieran Read doesn't haul in the international player of the year gongs to be announced in the UK this week. He was the best player in the best team.
The baton has been passed on from Richie McCaw and Dan Carter to Read whose contribution comes in so many areas with so much distinction.
He has brought a timeless style to the No 8 jersey, a position that has been a tricky area for the All Blacks over recent years.
Murray Mexted always said if you had a good seven and eight, you had the substance of a good team. We have great players in those positions and we have a great team.
Some No 8s are ball players who love to hit it up, others like to range wide. Read does both and he's magnificent on defence and a lineout option as well. He brings the absolute full scope to this position.
Ben Smith has been a bit of a slow burner since breaking into the All Blacks in 2009. But this was the year where he showed he wasn't just an All Blacks regular but indeed absolute world class.
With Corey Jane injured, he stepped up to own the right wing, doing all the little things right, but also proved to be a deadly finisher.
He was regarded highly enough by his coaches to be thrust into the centre role. He wasn't as prominent at 13 but long-term I've no doubt he will be a prospect there.
People seem to be willing to give him breathing space in his new role, because of the giant strides he has made overall this year.
Steven Luatua looked a shoo-in for this after his stunning start to the season when he got plenty of opportunities and took them with both hands at blindside flanker, showing the physicality required for the job.
But by year's end I think he got edged by his young Auckland team-mate Charles Piutau who brought his exciting game to the test arena with confidence. Benefiting from Smith's move to centre, Piutau got a chance at wing and popped up all over the place with some key plays.
The 38-27 win against the Springboks in Johannesburg stands out. It probably surpassed its billing, being regarded as one of the game's absolute classics. This is a very good Springboks team whose only two defeats all year came at the hands of the All Blacks. To beat them at Ellis Park was outstanding.
BEST OF THE REST
The Boks remain the biggest menace but we're seeing England making a bit of a move and finally some signs of promise from the Wallabies under Ewen McKenzie. He's on a two-year plan and he's trying to make a much-needed cultural shift. But everyone is inconsistent compared to the All Blacks. And don't forget, the All Blacks' remarkable consistency comes against opponents who, test after test, lift themselves for the challenge of playing the world No 1.
Steve Hansen has made his own mark with this side and he has universal respect. People say he's grown into the media role and public life. I think the media have simply come to understand and appreciate him for what he is. Hansen's bosses and players hold him in the highest regard and that's what's important.